When you’re at war, it’s perfectly understandable that you’ll mourn your own losses, both military and civilian, you’ll rejoice in the losses of the enemy’s combatants, and you’ll pretty much ignore his ‘collateral’ losses, which before and since have been a hundred-fold the under-3000 Americans killed on 9/11. But for all that, there’s something called seemliness, is there not? And all this bleating about 9/11 – all day Saturday and for several days leading up to it – was nothing if not unseemly. Not a word about what might have provoked the attack, let alone justified it. Not a word of empathy for the unintended but anticipated consequences of the retaliatory bombing of Afghani villagers, Afghani villagers who knew as much about 9/11 as Vietnamese villagers knew about communism.
With any luck, the thirtieth anniversary, a decade hence, won’t be quite as unseemly. And the fortieth perhaps not unseemly at all. This is because time heals all wounds.
But what kind of wound was it, really? More people died on American highways the weekend before that Tuesday, and every weekend since. More people are dying every day from Covid. So I guess if the enemy is either inadequate guardrails or a virus, we’re left to mourn the loss of our loved ones privately, whereas if the enemy is other people, we need a more public display of high dudgeon.
Is there a public display of high dudgeon that’s not unseemly? I’m thinking not. The world saw the Holocaust coming. Likewise the Holodomor, Armenia, Ruanda, Bosnia … To park on the tracks and then feign surprise when you’re T-boned is worse than unseemly. It lacks dignity. By all means lick your wounds, but beyond that you should self-flagellate, not shake your fist at your comeuppance.
Most victims of these atrocities – of the Holocaust, of Ruanda, of the Bosnian genocide – had few if any means of escape. But survivors seldom accuse the Nazis or the Hutu or the Serbs, any more than they accuse the tiger that sneaks into the village and mauls a child. That’s because most people know that nature red in tooth and claw makes no exceptions for human beings. Rather, if anyone, they accuse you, for seeing what was coming and doing nothing to stop it.
Was American policy in the Middle East the sine qua non of 9/11? Of course it was. Some people worry that the Taliban 2.0 is going to harbour another bin Laden. Perhaps. But only if America creates another bin Laden, which I have every confidence it will.